A local group of 35 drove to Philadelphia, PA this past weekend to see Pope Francis as he concluded his historic first visit to the United States.
The group, mostly consisting of members of St. Paul and St. Elizabeth Catholic Churches, was led by Father Steve Hohman, of St. Paul Catholic Church, and returned home on Tuesday afternoon, Sept. 28 to talk about and reflect on the trip.
“It was a journey of faith, really,” said Hohman, adding that most who went on the trip, including himself, had never seen a pope in person previously.
St. Paul bought a used Grayson County school bus specifically for the purpose of travelling to see the pope, and the group spent two days of the four-day trip on the road.
The trip included a lot of walking, driving, and sacrifice of comfort, but the opportunity to take part in history was a worthwhile exchange for the travellers.
“It was really a pilgrimage,” Hohman said, explaining that the travellers relied on the kindness of strangers for shelter and food while in Philadelphia.
“We slept on a church floor,” he said.
When they finally arrived and joined the line to see Pope Francis as he drove by on Sunday, Sept. 27, the Grayson County pilgrims found an enormous crowd, Hohman said.
“For a mile, people prayed together,” said Hohman. “To get that many people together in prayer, I don’t know that that’s ever been done before—in the United States, at least.”
The local group waited in the crowd for three-and-a-half hours to see Pope Francis as he passed in his “Pope-mobile,” and while they were unable to actually see him in the flesh, they saw him on large screens, Hohman said.
The group also had the opportunity to attend a mass led by Pope Francis, the security for which “was immense,” with FBI, local law enforcement, and the National Guard having a presence there, according to Hohman.
For Hohman, being in the vicinity of the human representation of the Catholic church “felt like it was part of history in our church.”
Coming away from the trip, Hohman said, he has much to share with his parishioners at St. Paul, especially Pope Francis’s message of staying strong to one’s beliefs, but also opening up to go beyond divisions and help and look out for everyone, as well as create a joined community under Jesus Christ.
“It was a great weekend…of prayer together,” said Hohman. “…We’re just thankful to the Lord for getting us there and getting us back, and for the community.”
Reach Matt Lasley at 270-259-9622, ext. 2015.